The past year has seen the celebration of handloom like never before. As recently as last week, Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani started a Twitter campaign #IWearHandloom. And now, in Chennai, we have Nayaab, which seeks to throw the spotlight on the textile traditions of India, and give them their due.
This is easier said than done. But, designers and craft lovers seeking to protect the purity of the textile tradition continue to chip away at the stumbling blocks that prevent handloom from occupying its rightful place. Two things are crucial to the debate — the cost of reviving handloom, and if keeping it expensive and exclusive is the only way to retain craft purity.
Here’s what some designers feel…
Gaurav Jai Gupta
Since it began, Akaaro has been trying to push the envelope when it comes to using handloom fabrics. Gaurav, a designer who is also a weaver, brings to Nayaab his saris, women’s wear, textured capes, stuff that introduces the city to his design philosophy.
“I look at the issue from the angle of both designer and weaver.
Three years of weaving left me with a bad back. Think of the person who does it all his life. Why would the future generation want to take up handloom? We have to make it a profitable livelihood for them. People say that with more production, the plight of weavers will improve, but will it? The weavers’ work remains the same,” says Gaurav.
He speaks about Gopal Basak, the master weaver from Phulia, who is associated with him. “He works according to his terms and conditions and gives me what I want. He’s happy, but his son has got a job in Singapore. Should he let him go or not? This quandary is because despite the various schemes, the benefits have not reached the last weaver. You have to work to reduce prices, you have to work to create a market by educating people… The middle class has the ability to spend, say, Rs. 5,000 on something. Getting them to spend that money on handloom is the key. You have to dignify craft and create an aspirational value for it; create new aesthetics that tells the tale of the time we are living in.”
Known for his jamdanis and work with weavers, the designer says that heirloom handloom is expensive, simply because of the work that is put in. “I use khadi, the kind that the elderly would wear, but in a different silhouette. The weaver who would get Rs. 800 for a sari as labour charges, for two days’ work, now gets more than a lakh for finer work that is done over a couple of months. There’s a market, the weavers’ craft is retained, and his lot has improved because of it; we use traditional techniques, but with our design, colour and directional input,” he says. “It’s simple,” he adds. “My customer pays me what I demand. I am the weaver’s customer. I will pay what he demands.”
At Nayaab, check out Gaurang’s specially-created Benaras collection.
Darshan Shah, Weavers Studio, Kolkata
Known for ceaselessly promoting handloom and textile traditions since 1993, Darshan has a different take on the issue. “Why must we revive? Is handloom dead? It is not,” she says. And, handloom is accessible, both online and offline, she adds.
What is needed is the coming together of various stakeholders to create an environment where handloom and its creators take pride in their identity and preserve their traditions. “We have to find a way to keep our dyers, weavers, printers and cotton growers engaged in what they are doing, profitably. We need skill development centres and design banks to help them with inputs and bring down costs.”
And, we have to understand that everything need not be mass market, she says. “There’s something called limited edition and it costs money.” Citing Rajasthan’s example, she says that the State has managed to create a conducive environment for its textiles.
“It creates thousands of metres of fabric and has created a market and sustained it.”
Renowned for her passion for Banarasi and for her pure fabrics that don’t rely on embellishment, Mallika agrees that, sometimes, handloom turns out to be expensive, but it is possible to cut costs. “I’ve always worked with handwoven fabrics. Banarasi fabrics are expensive, but there are ranges. It depends on how we style them and how much fabric we use for the garments.
For instance, jamdani from Bengal and Benaras is among the most expensive of fabrics. It is difficult to make, time-consuming and laborious. That puts it in the expensive bracket. We can’t change that. But what we can do is use it judiciously so that it adds value to something, yet is accessible. But, there are people who appreciate it as an heirloom piece. I tell clients to pick up one jamdani instead of 10. It’s almost an investment.”
She adds: “Not all handloom is high-end. You have stuff from other regions that are handwoven too but are moderately priced. You have to strike a balance between the class and mass market. The more the volume of production, the more work for the weaver.”
Rakesh Thakore of Abraham & Thakore
The cost of reviving weaving traditions is always high, says Rakesh, whose brand is known for its well-tailored handloom creations. “Maintaining high tradition always takes considerable time, especially in terms of training of weavers, proper yarn procurement, understanding design and marketing,” he says. And, he does not believe that something has to be expensive to stay pure.
“The differential is between silk and cotton yarn. Cotton is less expensive while real gold yarn is prohibitively costly.”
The duo’s latest collection, for instance, is all about shimmer, texture and ease; tribal drawings and ornate florals serve as an inspiration. Delicately shredded muslins and silks are juxtaposed with gold, copper and silver to create a collection of modern dresses with subtle richness.
At Nayaab, check out the Spring/Summer 2016 collection and the Shimmer collection.
What’s in store
Nayaab features Kashmir Loom (Asaf & Samina), En Inde (Anupama Sukh Lalvani & Sonal Sood), Brigitte Singh, Gaurang Shah, Akaaro – Gaurav Jai Gupta, Abraham & Thakore, Mallika Mathur, Monapali, Pero, Swati Kalsi, Weavers Studio and Kora – Anjali Kalia.
This event is presented by Rupa Sood and Sharan Apparao at Crowne Plaza, from August 8 to August 10 from 11 am. to 8 p.m.
Sharan Apparao, who co-presents Nayaab, says the idea is to showcase handloom or any Indian craft with respect. “You cannot keep craft alive if you don’t pay artisans well. How will you get the future generation interested?” she says. “The first step is to give them enough money and enhance respect. Acknowledge them and give them authorship. The idea of authorship is new in craft, but it is important. People must know the maker.”